back to article US border cops must get warrants to search phones, devices – EFF

The controversial topic of electronic device searches at the US border, and whether customs agents should be required to get warrants before sucking data off them, is heading to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. For several years the legal issues surrounding what border agents are entitled to do with your electronic devices …

  1. katrinab Silver badge

    Put the data on "the cloud", delete the app, then reinstall it once you are past border control? That's certainly what experienced criminals will be doing.

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Quite. If you thought of it, and I thought of it, then anyone with something to hide has thought of it too.

      This leads me to believe the policy has nothing whatsoever to do with catching criminals or "terrorists".

      1. Lysenko

        Crims are also well aware of the advantages of burner phones. I suspect it is only a matter of time before the "offence" of not having an immediately obvious FarceBook account set up becomes probable cause to call in a proctologist.

        Sending the phone on ahead via FedEx still seems to be a fairly reliable workaround based on anecdotal evidence.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Sending the phone on ahead via FedEx still seems to be a fairly reliable workaround based on anecdotal evidence."

          Except when FedEx take 10 days to "overnight/two day" it to you, and it somehow goes via China and it gets opened and who knows what happens to it. Ask me how I know.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            So you tried to use this 'send it ahead' trick, but evil old FedEx saw right thru you and sent your phone off to their masters (the Chinese authorities) to be probed anyway, darn it.

            Why do I find this scenario less than believable?

            1. Richard 12 Silver badge

              FedEx routing "errors" are common

              Same with other couriers, it's not exclusive to them.

              There are countless anecdotes of parcels taking unreasonable and in some cases completely insane routes according to the courier tracker and calendar days taken to arrive.

              Of course, there's no way to know where a package actually went - only what the courier admits to.

              1. DropBear

                Re: FedEx routing "errors" are common

                "Of course, there's no way to know where a package actually went - only what the courier admits to."

                ...unless the package happens to contain... a phone. Which could power up each hour or so, attempt to get a GPS fix, log it, and power back down for another hour (with the right app). Might still miss all the clear(ish)-sky fix opportunities though...

                1. lglethal Silver badge
                  FAIL

                  Re: FedEx routing "errors" are common

                  Border Police/TSA aren't trying to catch the smart criminals (that's up to the FBI et al). TSA only what the easy collars to make their numbers look good.

                  Gotta be seen to be doing something...

                2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

                  Re: Which could power up each hour or so

                  and would wait for PIN confirmation before doing anything.

                  I don't think that there is any app that go around that.

                  1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                    Re: Which could power up each hour or so

                    "and would wait for PIN confirmation before doing anything.

                    I don't think that there is any app that go around that."

                    I suspect he meant sleep/hibernate, not power down. In which case, there are many apps capable of doing as he suggests.

                3. IglooDude

                  Re: FedEx routing "errors" are common

                  "...unless the package happens to contain... a phone."

                  And (irony aside), it doesn't need a phone - there's several luggage-tracking devices/apps out there that'd do nicely, enabling you to keep your phone powered off and therefore keeping it in a completely encrypted status.

              2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

                Re: FedEx routing "errors" are common

                They are probably using advanced AI systems...

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "Sending the phone on ahead via FedEx"

          Although currently it still seems to be a bit of a gamble as to when it might arrive.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why use the cloud when you can put a cheeky micro SD up the bum? There's a myth that some could smuggle zip-100's though this has never been proven or attempted since. The alternative was microfiche.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Why use the cloud when you can put a cheeky micro SD up the bum?

        No need to get that uncomfortable. I've seen hollowed out coins which looked like the real thing but which had a space inside. You opened it up by knocking it whilst positioned on a ring (which you can just wear as apparent jewellery). The coin metal also shields it from Xray.

        If someone wants to carry data, there are many, many ways. The only way you could stop that is to prevent the use of any metal of mini-SD card size or larger, but at that point, someone will come up with a smaller nano-SD card and the game starts all over again.

        1. TheElder

          No need to get that uncomfortable.

          The Canadian two dollar coin (Toonie) is just perfect.

          Cool Kids coin modification

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Put the data on "the cloud", delete the app, then reinstall it once you are past border control? That's certainly what experienced criminals will be doing.

      True. US border control merely assures only the smart ones gain entry, i.e. the truly dangerous ones, plus there is IMHO a vast question about their actual abilities. How many truly qualified people do they have to do electronic searches? If the expertise I saw on display at a northern England police force is comparable we're dealing with what I call the trained monkey syndrome: idiots drawing unwarranted, self serving conclusions based on a lack of understanding of what they're dealing with causing innocent people having to prove their innocence against a veritable wave of ignorance.

      I know people in the force who do know their IT, but they're rare. I cannot see the volume any higher at the border because that is in essence a profit making venture, which means expertise is cut to the bone to save on salaries. Maybe that's why they're arresting DEFCON hackers now?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Remote Desktop...

    It all seems pretty pointless, if they have hunch/tip off maybe i.e. directed, but spending vast amounts on this is a waste of time, because people (that need to) will just learn to work round it. Soon the only thing they'll be catching is the low hanging clueless fruit.

    Just take a new USB Live version of Linux with you, (or create it when you arrive) if you know you'll have access to a PC when you get there, keeps everything separate. What's to stop anyone using RDC to display the screen of another device with access to all their data, i.e. a PC on your work/home network via a secure VPN / Cisco Router for security. It's not even cloud based then and they'll certainly need a warrant.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Remote Desktop...

      I think this is what the framers of the constitution were thinking of when they talked about unreasonable search. Just consider anything you have done, thought or written, or anyone you have ever met or communicated with, that this or any future government might disapprove of, and take the sort of precautions you would take if you were being parachuted into occupied France in 1941.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: the sort of precautions you would take if you were being parachuted into [..] France in 1941

        That is why it has to be said that Bin Laden has won.

        We have been turned around and now we accept draconian and Stasi-level impositions on our personal freedoms because we are all too lily-livered to stand up for our rights.

        If I have to travel, I forego phone and all electronics. I take a book for the trip. Of course, I haven't ever had to take a plane for business reasons, so it's easy for me.

        Obviously, the day a Facebook profile is required to pass border control, I'm screwed.

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: the sort of precautions you would take if you were being parachuted into [..] France in 1941

          You'll need to step up your game. At least to 1960ies standards.

          "Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find:

          - One forty-five caliber automatic

          - Two boxes of ammunition

          - Four days' concentrated emergency rations

          - One drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine,

          vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills

          - One miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible

          - One hundred dollars in rubles

          - One hundred dollars in gold

          - Nine packs of chewing gum

          - One issue of prophylactics

          - Three lipsticks

          - Three pair of nylon stockings.

          Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."

          1. IglooDude

            Re: the sort of precautions you would take if you were being parachuted into [..] France in 1941

            "Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."

            Weekend yeah, but most of it didn't last past Sunday night. Though the ammo lasted all the way till Thursday.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Megaphone

          Re: the sort of precautions you would take if you were being parachuted into [..] France in 1941

          "That is why it has to be said that Bin Laden has won."

          too many people trade freedom for (the promise of) security, and get NEITHER.

          I still think that border cops and airport cops should "profile" instead. But NOOoooo... political correctness DEMANDS that EVERYBODY be treated like a potential criminal! You know, like TSA feeling up 6 year old girls, looking for hidden bombs or something. Yes, that happened.

          So yeah, it's like a "Paranoia Gambit" gone horribly wrong.

        3. TheElder

          the day a Facebook profile is required to pass border control, I'm screwed.

          Simple solution. I do not exist on social media.

    2. hplasm
      Facepalm

      Re: Remote Desktop...

      "Just take a new USB Live version of Linux with you,"

      Or, I hate to say it - Windows To Go...

      Ew.

  3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Individual warrants?

    Or just apply for a single warrant covering all airports, ports and areas within 100mi of a border, for all people, for 10 years - and have it signed in secret by a single judge?

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Individual warrants?

      Those who read the Constitution know that warrants have to be based "upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly [describe] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

      The idea of a single warrant such as described will not fly.

      On the other hand, "secret" warrants are, for practical purposes, the norm in nearly all cases, and probably in nearly all countries. Notification of the target normally arrives with the warrant and is delivered immediately before a search begins.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Individual warrants?

        warrants have to be based "upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly [describe] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

        That's going to take a bite out of Stingray's share price

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Individual warrants?

        Constitutional? That's for liberal snowflakes.

        Except for the second amendment, of course.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Individual warrants?

      Or just apply for a single warrant covering all airports, ports and areas within 100mi of a border, for all people, for 10 years - and have it signed in secret by a single judge?

      Actually, border control can already search any laptops,etc within 100 miles of the US Border. Conveniently, about 2/3 the population of the US lives within this "constitutional exemption" zone.

      [Removes tinfoil hat].

      And anyway - the discussion with border control goes something like this:

      "will you unlock your phone for me, sir?"

      "No"

      "OK. Since you're not a US citizen, enjoy your flight home"

      or

      "well, you are a US citizen, but you look suspicious, I think we're going to have to detain you for 72 hours on suspicion of loitering"

  4. Nolveys

    This article quaintly seems to assume that the rule of law still has a modicum of meaning within the good ol' US of A. I'm experiencing so much nostalgia right now.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Francis Boyle

    Surely

    the point of search at the border is to prevent people bringing contraband into the country not to determine their suitability to enter. Anything more is by definition excessive. Of course, that horse bolted long ago.

  6. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    More delays...

    So if this goes through, (as it should), instead of hanging around for a couple of hours while they clone your phone contents, you now spend 3 days in the slammer while they wait to get a warrant. Great!

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: More delays...

      You missed the part about the Maximum of 4 hours detention?

      Admittedly thats only for yanks but hopefully, if yanks get that protection, something similar will eventually trickle down to the rest of us dirty foreigners.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: More delays...

        You missed the part about the Maximum of 4 hours detention?

        Admittedly thats only for yanks but hopefully, if yanks get that protection, something similar will eventually trickle down to the rest of us dirty foreigners.

        When did that EVER happen?

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The next step ..

    .. is to make sure you keep every spam and every dodgy content ever sent to you by email.

    It's not going to be your fault when they infect their systems now, is it?

  8. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    Only affects Americans

    The American authorities should realise than generally, Americans are going to travel back home anyway.

    It's the "less important forrin' types" - tourists and business people - who now stays away that should be their real concern.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Only affects Americans

      There may be an ulterior motive. They really don't want McAfee getting back in.

  9. kmac499

    I know criminal mastermind is a bit of an oxymoron .

    But I would expect any 'professional' ne'er do wells to have at least two social media personalities, A public one easily viewed by the border forces full of cat videos and anodyne postings, "Nothing to see here welcome to our country"; and their working one which is accessed by a computer in a broom cupboard somewhere over a vpn.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      But what age do you start having a 'safe' profile?

      Would any of your posts in highschool mention anything that a future President Bannon might object to ?

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. hellwig

    This is more political than technical

    The U.S. is certainly instituting a closed-border policy. Not just keeping foreigners out, but making every effort to keep it's own citizens in.

    This does seem like just another step towards some sort of totalitarian regime change. Restrict the free travel of your citizens, even internally. Ohio's asset forfeiture policies pretty much mean I won't be travelling through that state.

    It's very quick work on the part of the Trump contingent. We like to talk about his health care and wall building failures, but he truly is succeeding at his true goal, isolate the U.S. from the rest of the world and strengthen his cronies' economic power by weakening the position of the common citizen. Cast doubt, spread fear, and sow anger. Decry higher education, weaken the common/free lower education system (Betsy DeVos, really?). Breed a society of dumb, content laborers.

    Treat the citizens like cattle. Profit on their every interaction (thanks Pai!), tax them and spend it on the Military Industrial Complex we don't need(M1 Abrams and F-35s? No thanks). Keep the people sick and weak and complacent by denying them basic health care (not that that's been working out too well for them).

    It's all truly terrifying if you stop to think about it. Soon the US will beis run by a cabal of the greediest, most loathsome bastards you've ever laid eyes on.

  11. Zebo-the-Fat

    Not mine

    Search my phone? but it isn't mine, it belongs to my company who are not available at weekends...so I can't give you permission to look at it...?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not mine

      In that case it's likely they will keep it - that other fun thing they can do to you.

  12. TheElder

    Search my phone? (or laptop)

    I once worked for a company where the only way to log in was to call a phone number (dumb phone). It used a five minute window synced with the time of day on the laptop. The login password changed every five minutes. Call, type your ID and the robot gave you the proper password for that five minutes.

    "Sorry sir, the number is busy or not working..."

    The other thing to do is very simple. Multiple users with one that has access to nonsense. Some some pretty pictures on the screen should be interesting...

    Music album covers

  13. mIRCat
    Coat

    Don't leave home without then.

    So while people may be very unhappy about border agents going through their luggage, everyone pretty much agrees that it is a necessary right.

    Do we though? I don't believe I'd ever use the words, "necessary right" to describe such acts. Now privacy, that I will happily put high on a list of necessary rights. Some numpty rummaging through my clothes, much less my personal electronics, isn't something that will make me feel safe or secure.

    I'm sure I've got my inalienable right in one of these pockets.

  14. ChasTheOne

    Border

    Search at the border is disingenuous. I don't recall ever seeing anything in the constitution saying that any part to the United States of America was exempt from the constitution, much less any part of the USA within 200 miles of the border (which includes the better part of the entire population, most of which are US citizens.) Things are out of hand, we need to correct our course and sail away from this police state the current SCOTUS is trying to steer us into.

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